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Will's world

Stewart Arnott directs Will Eno's sharpy funny play about the end of the world

By: Jon Kaplan


How would the media treat the end of the world?

In American playwright Will Eno's Tragedy: a tragedy, the reporting and personal reflections start light and then turn darker, appropriate since what humankind is dealing with is a sunset that isn't followed by a sunrise. Everlasting blackness prevails around the world.

"What I love about Eno's work is his obsession with and intense focus on the English language - its beauty but also its inadequacy as a vessel to carry deep, authentic, intimate thoughts and ideas," says director Stewart Arnott.

"All of his characters struggle with the limitation and beauty of what words can and can't do for us."

In Tragedy, a series of news people - a field reporter, a paternal studio anchor, a woman who delivers human interest stories, a political analyst - offer their professional and later personal takes on what's going on. At one level, they're a dysfunctional family. There's also an eyewitness to the event who has his own thoughts about the darkness.

"At first the journalists rely on style and vocabulary over substance to spin the facts and sensationalize in order to make 'good news.' But though they start out relatively competent in how they do it, their work starts to fall apart. As the importance of the catastrophe sinks in, they realize they can't talk their way out of it. The darkness deepens personally; language can't pull them out of the trouble they're in."

One of the things Arnott loves about Eno's plays, which include Thom Pain (based on nothing) and The Realistic Joneses, is that "he's not afraid to mix genres. This play begins as a comedy - it's more than a satire on American media - and then starts to turn. But there's always a deep empathy, even if blackly funny, and a caring for humanity at the dead centre of his work.

"His style is what I'd call existential stand-up, the humour wonderful and unexpected, in this case coming out of the characters' realizations about what they're saying and the meaninglessness of their words."


jonkap@nowtoronto.com

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